On a cold winter's morning, surrounded by two feet of snow, we arrived at the Big Brother auditions, at Newcastle racecourse, to see a long line of wannabe contestants waiting to get famous. The first thought to occur to me was why would anyone be so desperate for fame that they would stand in snow for hours wearing a chicken costume?
The cult of celebrity has been around for a long time but it has only been recently that people have been famous for doing nothing. The obsession of reality television has led to a whole host of "celebrities" most of whom aren't famous for any particular talent. What is it about fame which makes people strive to achieve it? Why do people think they have what it takes and how do they have such an ego that they think people will want to watch them for ten weeks?
The queue was made up of an assorted mix of people, looking very dramatic against the white backdrop, leading into a small room; the press and a number of somewhat brightly dressed security people dotted around. Trevor Jagnson, dressed in a very bright chicken costume, told me in all seriousness how he had been to all the auditions already held around the country and intended to go to all the others in order to achieve the aim of becoming a contestant. Like all the others, he believes he has the unique mix to make it and described the contestants from the year before as "boring, really boring people" and this being the reason why "they changed the system of auditioning." Again, like the others in an assortment of bizarre costumes, he couldn’t see the absurdity of his situation. "Well they have chickens in the Big Brother house don't they, so it’s obvious why I’ve dressed up, isn’t it.” Trevor, costume isn't going to hide the fact you're boring, no matter how many times you audition.
I then found myself distracted by a woman in a short skirt, tiny top and boots posing for the photographers. We were then presented with a part of her that should never be exposed to snow – she seemed to be the ideal person to talk to, to discover the reasons behind this desperate exhibitionist extreme. Jenny Mitchell was the one of the few people we talked to with a story. She works as a club dancer in Newcastle and has a seven-month old baby and an abusive ex-boyfriend. The main reason she gave for wanting to enter the house was that she was sexually frustrated. " I can't get it in reality, so I thought I'd give Big Brother a try, as it's been over a year since I've had any". As an afterthought she added “it’s also the lifestyle that comes with being famous and rich, Kingsmill instead of own brand, know what I mean?"
Producer Shirley Jones, overseeing this massive operation, seemed quite impressed with the Newcastle hopefuls and thought a few of them had "the X-factor." There were to be no restrictions on the number to go through; it was simply whoever caught the judges eye, and the process seemed haphazard to say the least. She believes the demand of reality television comes from the fact that "people always want to watch people." Some people will enter these auditions "because they want something out of it, a career or something."
Although people were very enthusiastic when entering the auditions (one guy, Al Davies, had even slept overnight in the woods to be there), when told they hadn't made it they were less impressed with the whole process. One girl bitterly commented that the judges were only looking for "knob-heads" and "twats" and that the auditions were pointless. Steven Swanson, a man in his early twenties, was equally cynical about the experience saying that the process didn't allow them "to find people less boring than the last big brother contestants, who didn't have what it takes." Steven had also tried out for Lad's Army because he wanted "to sort himself out". It was strange that, even though it was obvious people were going to be auditioned at a speedy rate and that not everyone would get through, how disenchanted people seemed to be at the end of the process. Could it be possible that people have that much self-belief?
I don't know what conclusion I can draw from what these people are doing: I'm not even sure a lot of them know themselves. When it doesn't seem clear what the people in charge exactly want, it seems very unlikely that the people auditioning know themselves. But Al Davies’ 70-year-old mother getting through must give us all hope. What is clear is that reality television is offering something that people seem to think is missing from their lives – and they believe Big Brother can give it to them.